By Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart
At Robinson Barracks, a teenage girl lights a candle while doing homework and sets it on a windowsill. Wind blows the curtains across the flame. She escaped the blaze that ensued, but the family lost everything.
That’s just one of the stories that Leonard Fagan, Assistant Fire Chief at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s Directorate of Emergency Services – Fire Department recalls when discussing how he works to educate the community during Fire Prevention Week, held Oct. 4-10 in 2020.
“The whole apartment was burned out or damaged from smoke,” Fagan said, adding that a total loss like that has only happened a few times in his 22 years at the garrison.
This year, fire prevention education is focused on kitchen fires – the number one cause of fires in the home – which are not uncommon to USAG Stuttgart. On Sept. 19, six German firetrucks responded to Patch Barracks when unattended cooking set off an alarm. When cooking, fires often result from distraction.
“Don’t leave the kitchen. If the telephone is ringing, the doorbell is ringing, the kids are crying … turn off your stove before you walk away from it,” Fagan said. “That’s what happened on Patch last Saturday night, the whole building was evacuated after dinner.”
Using a timer when cooking is a good reminder, Fagan said.
What’s surrounding the stove, like kitchen towels, can also be hazardous, said USAG-Stuttgart Fire Chief Karl Dörsam, who recalled an elderly woman who once placed other appliances on unused cooking hobs.
“She turned on the wrong plate and ignited her plastic coffee machine,” Dörsam said.
Garrison residents should lookout for other hazards around the home. In July, firefighters undertook a fire safety blitz, where they inspected every family housing building in the garrison, checking common areas like stairwells and basements for fire hazards, Fagan said.
“In 80 percent of the buildings we found basement doors – fire rated doors – wedged open,” Fagan said, adding that smoke from an open basement would turn a stairwell into a chimney.
They also found hazardous and flammable materials left in basements, plus clutter in stairwells that could impede people leaving quickly in an emergency. A garrison order recently directed residents to clean basements.
COVID-19 has affected the outreach and education normally offered within the community. Open houses and hands-on interaction with fire equipment cannot happen amid coronavirus restrictions.
Efforts to educate the community, especially younger people, will take place. Firefighters will set up displays at the Panzer Exchange and visit on-post housing areas during the evening, giving residents a chance to learn more about fire safety.
“We will be going through using areas with a fire truck and with Sparky the Fire Dog, hats, magnets and coloring books,” Fagan said.
Education and awareness are key to fire safety. Fagan works with building managers, who are also evacuation coordinators, on their emergency action plans. Before COVID-19, they held regular classes. Now, they meet one-on-one with building managers to identify hazards. Some tips he points out are; keeping fire doors closed, making sure barbeque grills are not be within five feet of a window and removing any furniture, bicycles, strollers or shoes from stairwells.
When asked what is the worst thing residents can do, if they suspect a fire on post, USAG Stuttgart fire chiefs respond with a resounding, “Not calling.”
Dialing 112 calls a local host nation control center. Most Germans dispatchers under-stand English, but make sure to ask for an English speaker, said Mike Ambacher, USAG Stuttgart’s assistant fire chief for operations. Dialing from the USAG Stuttgart App adds a prefix to the 112 number, routing the call the USAG Stuttgart’s control center at Stuttgart Army Airfield. Either using the App or calling directly to 112 works, he said.
“If it’s a fire or smoke call 112,” Ambacher said. “Everybody assumes that if a fire alarm goes off in a building that it’s automatically coming to us. That’s not always the case. It’s better to make the call than to wait.”
Fire Prevention Week in Housing Areas
The USAG Stuttgart Fire Department is holding mobile open houses in Army Family Housing areas on the following installations from 6-7 p.m., complete with information, handouts, gifts for kids, and Sparky the Fire Dog:
October 5 – Kelley Barracks
October 6 – Robinson Barracks
October 7 – Patch Barracks
October 8 – Panzer Kaserne